In a society where poor customer service is rampant, a well-trained company staff can shine if everyone adopts and commits to some simple service approaches.

The result can mean not only keeping your customers happy, but also keeping them period!

What is the biggest and most costly customer service mistake in business today?

My answer is simple - "We're just not friendly enough."

Customers should be treated as welcome guests when they call your office. Instead, they're often treated like an interruption or, even worse, an annoyance. More than 90 percent of all customer service starts with a telephone call. That said, customer service mistakes happen anytime and in many ways.

Customers can communicate with your company through any one of the six touch points of communication and any one of these touch points can damage a relationship, often permanently.

  • Email
  • Voice Mail
  • Snail Mail
  • Phone
  • Fax
  • Face-to-Face

(We left off texting on purpose. Let's leave that out for now. More on that later.)

Two of these communication tools are what is known as "synchronous;" the other four are "asynchronous."

Synchronous is instant communication, when two or more people are able to communicate immediately between each other, i.e., the telephone and in person.

Asynchronous is one-way information, with a lapse of time between initial contact and the response, i.e., email, snail mail, fax and voice mail.

With synchronous communications, you can easily signal your friendliness because you either have facial expressions or a tone of voice with which to befriend a member. With asynchronous, these relationship-building signals are not available, except perhaps for voice mail, when you can hear a smile. Thus, in written communications you must be an obviously friendly communicator. I'll focus on the telephone for now, but these tips and techniques are for all six modes of communication.

Over the years, Telephone Doctor customer service training programs have been presented to many conferences. It doesn't matter where I speak, someone from the audience, a member of the corporation, comes up to me afterwards and asks if I can bring a program to their company.

After a few needs analysis questions it pretty obvious training is needed. Read on.

Personal Note: I was a longtime member of an association and eventually became its president. Several years later, I decided not to renew. When I called to cancel my membership, all I heard was the perfunctory, "Okay, thanks." No one called. No one wrote to ask, "Why?" I figured no one cared - at least that's what I perceived.

Ya know what? It is NOT "okay" for a customer to be unhappy; to leave you without finding out WHY or what happened.

HINT: When someone calls to cancel an order or complain or not renew a membership, it is not "okay." It's often a failure attributable to disinterested treatment, rudeness, or generally poor customer service. I'm not saying the entire staff is bad, rude, or unfriendly, but what I hear most is that the little things - the things that customers expect (and rightfully should get) are missing.

We need to feel a cancellation, non-renewal or a complaint is like a death in the family.

Another common thread is the lack of an organized employee orientation program on customer service and telephone skills.

The usual scenario is: interview, hire, then train using trial by error - or worse, on-the-job training from someone else who may not have had any customer service training.

Let's dust off the Welcome Mat.

Here are some helpful customer service tips to help you start, or benchmark, your own customer service training program.

Bring your staff together at a time when everyone can attend and talk about any frustrating customer events. Discuss how they handled them versus how it could have been done. The meeting can be (and should be) short, maybe 15-20 minutes, and it doesn't need to be daily - but it does need to be done!

Not having a customer service training program in place can cost your company revenue and obviously customers. Also, poor service creates a negative image for the entire organization, no matter how wonderful the programs, products, or publications are that you offer.

Consider taking the serviceskills.com Tour. The 2:20 min Explainer Video.

And if staff has the attitude that no competition exists for the customer to go to, tell them that may be right, but if one customer tells another about a negative experience and so on down the line, you'll probably lose more customers. Then staff jobs will be lost, and eventually, bang - no company.

Take heed, it doesn't matter if the staff is large or small, they still need to be trained.

Here are three of the biggest mistakes in customer service:

MISTAKE 1: NOT SMILING

Solution: Smile! It sounds insanely simplistic, doesn't it? We're taught early on, that a smile can get us a lot. This is true even as adults, especially on the telephone. Since the telephone is the most commonly used mode of communication, your staff needs to understand why a smile works - because you can hear a smile. I recommend keeping a mirror by your desk, so when you pick up the receiver, you remember to smile and you can see yourself smiling.

Sometimes we don't feel like smiling. Smile anyway. The caller doesn't care if you feel like smiling or not. At Telephone Doctor, smiling before you pick up the phone is a condition of employment; not smiling is grounds for termination, and, yes, I have exercised that option. With customer service as our top priority, we simply don't tolerate not smiling before you pick up the phone. Frankly, I'd rather have the caller think your office is closed than to have you answer the phone in a negative mood. (YES, the caller CAN HEAR the smile.)

MISTAKE 2: NOT ACKNOWLEDGING A CALLER'S REQUEST

Solution: Rapid responses - RR. Use what we have called our 'mental stamp.' That means 'this request or piece of information needs an immediate and rapid response.' When we receive an email, fax or note, we immediately send that back to whoever sent it with the words, "Received and will handle." That way the person who asked for the information knows you got the request and everything is moving in the right direction. And it's good communication.

Another very good habit to get into is to ask the caller when they ask for something is: "And when would you be needing this information Mr. Jones?"

Our surveys found that when a caller is asked when he or she would like to receive the needed information, 80 percent of time they did not automatically respond, "I need it now," as you might expect. Thus, you don't have to promise, "I'll get that to you right away." Often, callers won't need something until tomorrow or next week. Asking for a timetable of delivery is good customer service. And remember, "as soon as possible" is not a time. Confirm a date.

MISTAKE 3: IMMEDIATE REJECTION OF A REQUEST

Solution: Be a "double-checker." It's so easy to tell people, "It's too late," or "We ran out of that report" or "we're out of widgets."

Instead, try: "Let me double-check on that for you." It's a wonderful way to defuse any disappointment about you not having what they called for in the first place. This simple statement of double checking immediately defuses some of the tension of not being able to fulfill a request completely. And often when we do double-check, we find a way to get what the person wanted after all.

You now have three techniques (simple as they are) to kick-start your customer service training program.

Remember, the entire staff, from president to maintenance needs to embrace the customer service program or it won't work. Be firm. The company's entire image is at stake since it is unlikely to get a second chance.

Don't have time? Make time. What or who is more important than customers? You'll be surprised at how much fun it is to hear a caller say, "Thanks, you've been super."

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For a complimentary copy of Nancy's eBook, Hidden Gems of Customer Service, please click here.

Nancy Friedman, president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, St. Louis, MO, is a popular KEYNOTE speaker at franchise, association and corporate conferences.

For a DEMO of Nancy in action, call 314-291-1012 or log on to: www.nancyfriedman.com or email her at [email protected].

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